Their wings are beginning to spread, and they are ready to take the next step to independence by getting their first job. Not only is it a great way for them to see the essential connection between labor and resources first-hand, but it also boosts their self-esteem by revealing their capabilities, and it helps them to appreciate your contribution as a parent – a true gift when you are raising teens!
Some teenagers have to work because their income is needed to help with family expenses. It’s not a matter of if, but when they get a job so they can contribute their share. Some, like my 16-year-old, have the luxury to keep most of the money they earn. As she becomes more independent, she has a growing list of expenses: eating out with her friends, getting her nails done, and other activities that cost money.
How to Support Your Teen Search for their First Job
Step 1: Clarify Saving/Spending/Donating Ratio in Advance
As I mentioned, in some families, working teens are expected to contribute all or a percentage of their earnings toward overall family expenses. Some families expect a certain percentage to be invested into a savings account and/or to be donated to charity. In some families, the teen can spend the money as they see fit. No matter your family’s practice, it’s important to be clear about these expectations at the beginning to prevent misunderstandings down the road. And, to the extent possible, to maintain consistency from child to child. Spell out who pays for the working teen’s clothing and accessories (the “wants” not the “needs”), sporting equipment, bath and beauty items, dining out with friends, etc.
Step 2: Brainstorm
We talked about the types of jobs she might like and what she might be qualified to do. Her work experience primarily included babysitting and a few one-off projects.
Step 3: Research
We each leveraged our social media to explore opportunities in our area. She asked among her older friends and I posted asking other parents for advice. They were so happy to share, including red-flagging places to steer clear of! This helped us narrow down the prospect list. We found that a swim school near us was hiring. Since my daughter was on the swim team for several years, this idea really appealed to her! My friend who suggested the idea even offered to give my daughter’s name to the hiring manager – a huge foot in the door. Using our contacts is how adults find work, why not teens?
Step 4: Preparation
I wanted to provide my daughter with support and guidance, but not micromanage. This was her journey. It would be her job.
Teen employment isn’t much different than adult employment. The big difference is that teens don’t have much experience, so they’ll have a lot of uncertainty when it comes to looking, applying, and interviewing for their first job.
We practiced interviewing with some commonly-asked questions. We talked about the importance of eye contact, a firm handshake, and a positive attitude. We waited for my daughter’s next day off school. She dressed up and we headed out together. I suggested she bring her own pen to complete the application, her social security card, and to have some references in mind from her babysitting, volunteer work, etc. Hiring managers commented on how well prepared she was. Point mom!
Some Tips for Success
- Set reasonable expectations, this is a first job, not a career. We looked for places that would be flexible with schoolwork and extracurricular activities.
- Network. My teen wanted to work somewhere that her friends would likely not frequent too often so they wouldn’t be a distraction. Smart girl! We used suggestions from our social media as a starting point. Let your teen know that everyone uses their contacts to find opportunities. Reassure them that it’s not weird. It’s common. Ultimately, we were able to use a few names as references which went a long way.
- Keep your job genre scope wide. My daughter applied at smoothie shops, a swim school, and a restaurant before getting a call back. This was very encouraging. I urged her to ask if a hiring manager was on duty and to at least introduce herself. This step really helped a lot. It made her stand out from the throng of teens asking for applications. A few places directed her to complete the application online, which is great for saving paper and streamlining the process, but as I explained to my daughter, it would be best to impress the potential employer with poise, confidence, and skills in person, which came in handy when one manager asked her name and said he would keep an eye out for her application. It is a good practice to drop applications off themselves, in person, unless specifically directed to do otherwise.
- Keep your geographic area tight. Unless the job is remote, stay as local as you can. I didn’t want my daughter to dread going to work because of a long commute, nor did I want the added stress of her driving my car (she doesn’t have her own yet) for long commutes. We looked for jobs within 15 minutes of home.
- Time of day matters. Be cognizant of what time your teen goes in to apply. My daughter specifically visited restaurants after the lunch rush and went to the swim school just before lunch, knowing classes likely were over for the morning and wouldn’t pick up again until afternoon. When a teen applies during the busiest time, they are a hindrance, not an asset. It’s a waste of time.
My daughter landed a job at a local restaurant the same day she applied. She asked to speak with a hiring manager just after filling out the application, and was hired within 20 minutes of leaving the restaurant! Seeing my daughter’s ear-to-ear smile was so rewarding.
When your teen is looking for a job, particularly when they have a can-do spirit and a solid work ethic, the best tip is to be supportive, but not to take over their job search. Provide guidance, but allow them to drive the process. Be your child’s safety net, cheerleader, and sounding board, and sit back and watch your teen thrive!